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Fond Memories of Vagina: Martin Amis’ The Pregnant Widow

A person like me has to be careful when he goes to the bookstore. He can’t just slop books into his cart and glide over to the register, he has to do his research. Because it is very easy to get burned. Like the time I borrowed Phillip Roth’s The Humbling from the library. I spent the next few weeks making retching noises and trying to get through erotic descriptions that were so terrible they were on the short list for the 2009 Bad Sex in Fiction Award, sex scenes that made me want to buy a tube of lipstick, scrawl IT ALL MEANS NOTHING on the bathroom mirror, and wander the streets in silent agony. This is my characteristic response to a certain type of book I’ve run into many times over the years, a book which I refer to as Fond Memories of Vagina. The plot is always the same: “I am a writer in the twilight of my years, bored with life and my sexual powers. Oh, wait: pussy. I shall attain some. I am reinvigorated! Thanks, pussy!” This bores me and makes my entire lower half numb.

Fond Memories of Vagina is a book that has been written over and over again. A few months ago I picked up Fury by Salman Rushdie at a thrift store. I knew this was Fond Memories of Vagina on the first page. All of the descriptions of people are based on a specious understanding of contemporary pop culture: It’s written in the way older male authors try to imitate youth culture (GAWWWWD Tom Wolfe), shoehorning in references to THE LATEST TECHNOLOGIES which make them seem even more clueless than ever. (Your main character has a MYSPACE account? What is this, the War of 1812?)

The main characters of these books are all the same guy. He spends three hundred pages aggrandizing or belittling himself, but is ultimately the only fit judge of his self-worth and life. He is usually embattled, defending himself against the intrusion of silly, feminine interpretations of his behavior, lest he start making decisions based on the lives and feelings of others rather than his own childish needs. He blames everyone else for his problems, he is able to take women’s measurements on sight with eerie precision, but he’s not very good at sex. The decline of his libido is always a metaphor for death. ALWAYS. You get the picture.

And who are these women? Take your pick from the treasure trove of stock characters that the male sexual fantasy complex has fed us. There are high-powered, but emotionally brittle female psychiatrists, tragic young ingenues, naive female poets, the occasional innocent farm girl — her cow milking a not too subtle metaphor for what the protagonist wants her to do to his well-read, internationally acclaimed boner — with the smell of tulips about her. Let me ask you something, Older Male Authors of a Certain Generation: Have you ever been near a cow?

Both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and John Updike went underage, which is revolting. They were largely shielded from criticism by the male apologists of high art, who reject critical interpretations of literature that expect the writer to take his head out of his own ass once in a while and decide against loving descriptions of pedophilia. In Memories of My Melancholy Whores, the ninety-year-old protagonist begins the book by ordering a young virgin on the telephone. Updike’s character in Toward the End of Time begins molesting a young girl for money. There seems to be a suspension of sexual morality in these books, built as they are on a rapidly deflating, and therefore desperately adhered to, sense that they are chasing HIGHER IDEALS. These ideals include the assumption that Fond Memories of Vagina is a book that needs to be written. Otherwise, we might forget that older men lust after younger women.

Let us call these books what they are: high-minded pornography. They are a way for Older Men of a Certain Generation to read a book about how sexy they are, how normal their neurotic tendencies are, and how easy it is to get young women to have sex with them. But they should not be labeled “universal,” as literature so often is. I am NOT talking about censorship. I am talking about the fact that these books won’t appeal to more than half of the population, and yet are marketed as if they written for everyone. If I decided to write a book about all the sex I wish I was having, I would have the sense to name it McKinley from “Wet Hot American Summer” Sends Garland a Sext or The Night Shia LaBeouf Didn’t Ruin It By Talking, not The Silent Quickening of Thomas Dupree. That would be misleading.

Wasn’t I supposed to be reviewing a book? Yes, The Pregnant Widow, by Martin Amis. The only book I’ve read of Amis’ is Time’s Arrow which I just adore. I haven’t read his most famous work, Money, because it was always checked out or missing from the library. The works of Martin Amis are the third most shoplifted books after The Virgin Suicides and The Bible. This man’s books are important to people.

The protagonist of The Pregnant Widow is a young writer in Italy named Keith Nearing, living with his girlfriend and her sexilicious friend. Amis sets as his task the summation of male-female relationships since the feminist revolution. Because feminism is something that is DONE to the main character, something that frustrates and traumatizes him, and leaves women flailing about for meaning in their lives. He makes IMPORTANT REVELATIONS:

The second item of business on the revolutionary manifesto ran as follows: Women , also, have carnal appetites.

Immemorially true, and now of course inalienably obvious. But it took a while for this proposition to be absorbed. In the no-sex-before-marriage community, the doctrine was that good girls didn’t do it for lust – and bad girls didn’t do it for lust either (they did it for fleeting leverage or for simple gain, or out of a soiled and cobbwebbed lunacy). And some of the young ones themselves never quite came to sober terms with it, with female lust.

I could shake any comment thread on the Beatdown about slut-shaming and get better writing than that. His prose is bloated and redundant, and is hard to remember, even while you are reading. But Amis is bringing something special to the table. He can cure you of the self-doubt and existential uncertainty of modern life, ladies. With his schwanz. Keith spends the entire novel whining that Scheherazade, a friend of his girlfriend, Lily, won’t bang him. THE NAMES, THEY ARE SYMBOLIC. He muses about sex, literature, women’s bodies, and lets hifalutin’, trite dialogue fall out of his empty, yapping head. In between these high points, Amis treats us to uninspired revelations coupled with free floating bits of trivia, delivered in a style meant to convey weight and gravitas, wrapped in zany, sexually transgressive antics. Which makes fully a third of this book legally a Chuck Palahniuk novel.

This passage is fairly symptomatic of these DEEP THOUGHTS:

Anticipation, looking forward, not as a passive state, but as the busiest and brightest of activities: that was youth. And the waiting taught him something literary too. He now understood why dying was for many centuries was a synonym for the completion of the male sexual act (And so live ever – or else swoon to death). In that moment, but not before, it was all right to die.

“The completion of the male sexual act?” That is the zenith of Amis’s powers? That was the least clunky phrase he could use to describe ejaculation? But it is clear he’s not looking to be concise; he is looking to distance himself from the penis. Women’s genitalia is granted lavish and florid attention, but the penis is referred to only in awkward metaphor. It is a “question mark that sometimes [becomes] an exclamation point.” Describing the penis with the same detail as the vagina would take our minds off of the female body, which we must be as willing and eager to plunder as Amis. These books aren’t just passive voyeurism; the author is quite sure you are as captivated and enthralled by his sexual powers as he is. These books always remind me of Christian Bale in “American Psycho,” rutting fiercely and eyehumping himself in the mirror. It makes you want to get involved, to tell Amis, “hey, guy, do you want to get a room to yourself and work all this out? Do I really need to be here for this?” Which is always how I feel when I read these books, because they are all the same book. The exact same.

Even I am not immune to the trend. You see, I’ve written a Fond Memories of Vagina of my own. I don’t have a lot of experience having sex with women, but I do know tech support. That’s all sex is, right? Fluid mechanics, carnal physics, the movement of hot bodies through sexy space. In closing, I give you a sex scene from my erectnological thriller, The Webmaster:

He inserted his male attachment into the female adapter, and watched his progress bar creep across the screen. The green line’s smooth rationality was undercut by the capricious time estimates that were careening wildly across the spectrum of likely endpoints. Five hours. Three minutes. Twelve minutes. A day. He thought of organized sports, for some reason.

Then, at last, the apex! The timer was counting down reliably from thirty seconds, the bar was filled with vigor. He hastened to his appointed destination, only to be distracted by a notification window (ERROR 739: FEMALE ORGASM NOT FOUND.) He felt his baud rate begin to slip. In a panic, he closed the window and pushed it from his mind. And then there it was: le petit écran bleu de la mort. He defragmented into a million bits of solitary pleasure.

62 Comments

  1. Sady wrote:

    TO FORESTALL DEBATE IN THE COMMENT SECTION: The men in these books invariably have penises. The women in these books invariably have vaginas. Furthermore, the fact of their having vaginas, and of their willingness to avail the author-surrogate of these vaginas, is invariably the most important or interesting thing you could ever hope to know about them. That is why I own none of these books, and have thrown the few that I’ve tried to own away, possessed by a fiery rage.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 3:38 pm | Permalink
  2. Kiri wrote:

    That parody at the end is pure genius.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 3:51 pm | Permalink
  3. Jeff Fecke wrote:

    Sorry. Your Fond Memories of Vagina is actually kind of funny to read, rather than horrifying, sickening, and soul-crushing. Alas, you’ll never be a Great Man Author with Really Big Things to Say.

    At any rate, thank you for naming this phenomenon. A grateful world owes you its thanks.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 3:52 pm | Permalink
  4. Shinobi wrote:

    Dude, Did you see the “Fond Memories of Vagina’ TV show on showtime?

    Californication was exactly this book in TV form complete with guy with writer’s block and creepy sexual escapade with girl who might become his daughter’s step sister.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  5. peli grietzer wrote:

    “I am talking about the fact that these books won’t appeal to more than half of the population” — but this isn’t actually true, is it? The books you mentioned have a huge female readership. It’s an icky genre, to be sure, but it’s inaccurate to say that it appeals only to male readers.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  6. solara wrote:

    No, I don’t. But, GarlandGrey, I cannot applaud you more for this. I always, always found those books extremely creepy . . . but if someone wrote a book like your parody, I would buy it, read it, and probably re-read it. Hilarious, and awesome.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink
  7. aldrovandi wrote:

    Using my undercover name to admit that my novelist husband’s sex scenes are like this. Sigh.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink
  8. Yvonne wrote:

    “question mark that sometimes [becomes] an exclamation point.” -Amis

    Just call it an interbang, already. Jeez.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:47 pm | Permalink
  9. bxley wrote:

    ugh. thank you for taking down Gabriel García Márquez, who, I think, has always ALWAYS been an Older Male Author of a Certain Generation, even when he was young and his generation was fresh-faced and innovative. as proof, the fact that every single one of his books (yes, even the two that are actually good) features (or stars!)a Thoroughly Fetishized Sex Worker as an embodiment of utter selflessness (she gives her very SELF away, dear reader, out of sheer kindness to poor menfolk, who really, really need it) and, thus, obviously, an embodiment of ultimate human goodness.

    and, other than the unsurpassed genius of The Webmaster, I kinda would like to read some Fond Memories of Vagina, written by someone who perhaps had fond memories of her own vagina.
    (extra points if she also has fond memories of other people’s).

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 4:49 pm | Permalink
  10. Ellie wrote:

    I want to buy The Webmaster. Pretty sure it would become my favorite book, and that is a super-hard feat (haha, hard).

    Seriously, publish this book. =]

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  11. CassieC wrote:

    A million exclamation-pointy excited, turgid and throbbing thanks to you, GarlandGrey, for this luscious, peachy, opening flower-bud of a post! It’s better and funnier and truer prose than any of the books you’re reviewing.

    The sad thing about the Fond Memories of a Vagina genre is that not only is it soul-crushingly self-centered and misogynistic, but you can’t help but feeling that the Vagina Does Not Have Fond Memories of Them. If the Vagina were to write its memoirs, it might read more like: The Time I Let This Old Douche Bone Me Just To Shut Him Up Already My Goodness What A Tiresome Bore Was I Ever Glad To Get That Over With, I Will Now Join A Nunnery And Spend Quality Time With Kittens, Or Puppies Too, Of Course, No Offense To Hektor.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink
  12. patrick wrote:

    “Older Male Authors of a Certain Generation: Have you ever been near a cow?”

    M. Bluth: “Has anyone in this family ever seen a chicken?”

    Awesome.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink
  13. Aaron wrote:

    Oh my God in heaven I just about died laughing.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Permalink
  14. Alex wrote:

    le petit écran bleu de la mort.

    Fucking hilarious. Thank you, so very much.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 5:45 pm | Permalink
  15. Andy wrote:

    Someone should write “Fond Memories of Dick,” Subtitle: “Ohhhhhhh… woops”

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Permalink
  16. Katie wrote:

    I loved this post (especially the The Webmaster excerpt, heh! More Tiger Beatdown parody fiction, please!), but it was only made even better by reading it while I was listening to Sally Ford & The Sound Outside’s latest iteration of their song “Where Did You Go?” “You hold the object in your hand/Don’t abuse the power/’Cause you ain’t no man -/Look little boy you broke it/Just because you’re broken/Doesn’t mean it’s an excuse/To break somethin’ else” Going to share the pleasure of that, if the TB powers that be don’t mind?:
    http://www.mediafire.com/?20mamtunmmj

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Permalink
  17. Erin wrote:

    “The green line’s smooth rationality was undercut by the capricious time estimates that were careening wildly across the spectrum of likely endpoints. Five hours. Three minutes. Twelve minutes. A day.”

    I’m pretty sure that is the best thing I’ve ever read.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Permalink
  18. alanna wrote:

    Oh, Garland, you had me at, “He thought of organized sports, for some reason.”

    Actually you had me long before that, but that was when I guffawed far too loudly in the office.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 6:17 pm | Permalink
  19. KMTBerry wrote:

    I think that the timeless quote: “Women are the only group that grows MORE radical with age”, owes its truth to the fact that, as we age, we get SO FUCKING SICK OF WHITE HETERO MALES running EVERYTHING and simultaneously being so FUCKING IN LOVE with THEMSELVES, and their complete under-valuation, of EVERYONE ELSE!

    This particular sort of literature is supposed to be the Only Serious Literature, and I, like you, and the other commentors, am so SICK of it that I just can’t READ ANY ANYMORE!! EVER!!!

    (Interestingly, books in this genre really DO reveal a lot more about the authors than they might actually like to reveal…for instance, that they are THE MOST BORING PEOPLE ON EARTH, and that in a just world we could take their huge advances away from them and distribute them among actually Brilliant writers, like you guys!)

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Permalink
  20. TAN wrote:

    I’ve been feeling more and more like folks read and scan for DNA-points; hard nuggets of data they can process and assimilate into their own lives someway. This doesn’t have to be an actual ‘fact’, but for example the term “Fond Memories of Vagina” is a DNA point. And it’s the reason this post exists. like this funny, cute, valuable term needed to be born somehow, someway, and the rest is well-written amniotic fluid (which some people cook up, or use for research, or other ‘niche’ ways; but most just toss out).

    I mention this because i had this odd dissonance after reading this post of liking the writer, and his smart self-aware presence, but disliking the inflexibility in his reading of the material. is there no empathy at all for ‘Fond Memories of Vagina’? No good in this iteration of the trope? the writer’s DNA-point is FMOV, but what is Amis’s. is it definitely the same?

    I guess by the time we get to the quotes and talk of “bloated and redundant” language, I feel like we’ve long set sail on the SS Redundancy for ‘FMOV’. Again, not that I don’t find the point endearing, or whathaveyou, and the parody is a fun interpretation, but it is still another redundancy. which undermines the edge of the actual book review for me. this could have been a tweet on FMOV. or a series of oneliners, capped of by the parody.

    more to the point, in terms of people flying the flag of feminism, or other disenfranchised groups, what we are lobbying for is empathy. and i don’t feel that so much in this post.

    (but it’s smart enough that i’ll continue reading!)

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 7:34 pm | Permalink
  21. Kat wrote:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for giving this abhorrent genre a name! A subgenre might be: I Have So Much to Teach You, Younger Woman (about life, sex and smart things).

    These authors and books make me retch (I’m lookin’ at you, Philip Roth!).

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink
  22. Brimstone wrote:

    “He defragmented into a million bits of solitary pleasure.”

    this sounds like a line from an awesome cyberpunk novel

    great article! i haven’t read many of these books… i’m wondering if the genre fiction i read is worse. Probably!

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 8:35 pm | Permalink
  23. Victoria wrote:

    David Foster Wallace called these guys the Great Male Narcissists in his awesome takedown of Updike. That narcissism seems to beautifully sum up the genre.

    @CassieC: It’s key to the whole thing that the vagina’s perspective figures in no way to the book whatsoever, though the impression that the vagina isn’t quite so enthralled is always almost transparent. To much of my reading, this gives these assholes the out to pretend they were making some kind of useful social commentary on exactly the kind of guys they appear to be. They’re not, of course. They’re just smart enough to know that lots of us find them repugnant, and to have an answer to our disgust at the ready.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 8:55 pm | Permalink
  24. Gayle Force wrote:

    GarlandGrey, this is wonderful. I am so pleased to have a go-to name now for this genre. I have fierce, fiery hate for Updike and Roth. As far as I am concerned, their only skill lies in writing the least sexy sex scenes ever. These are the kind of sex scenes that make you never want to let anyone near your “sacred several-lipped gateway” EVER again.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Permalink
  25. Well, now I have vivid memories of how nauseated I got while reading Roth’s “Portnoy’s Complaint” for a book club by a heater after dinner (note: this is a terrible idea, especially if your dinner involved fried food). I am *so* glad that you pointed out that, beyond being really fucking irritating, these books aren’t even terribly original or transgressive in their vagina-description-obsession.

    Also, this is my favorite:
    “The main characters of these books are all the same guy. He spends three hundred pages aggrandizing or belittling himself, but is ultimately the only fit judge of his self-worth and life. He is usually embattled, defending himself against the intrusion of silly, feminine interpretations of his behavior, lest he start making decisions based on the lives and feelings of others rather than his own childish needs. He blames everyone else for his problems, he is able to take women’s measurements on sight with eerie precision, but he’s not very good at sex. The decline of his libido is always a metaphor for death. ALWAYS. You get the picture.”

    Because in the aforementioned book club discussion, when I was all “so, hey you guys, that book was pretty misogynist, huh,” the rest of the group was all “well, maybe PORTNOY was a misogynist, but clearly the book *itself* isn’t misogynist, because Portnoy is a miserable fuck who is so ridiculous that even he can’t stand himself.” To which I was like “well then why subject me to an entire book of his thoughts/gross sex descriptions?”

    But seriously, I should have just said what you said, because it was way smarter.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 10:03 pm | Permalink
  26. emjaybee wrote:

    Ironically, this post made me go “Oh yes! Oh yes!” in a way Fond Memories of Vagina (FMOG) could never do.

    What’s worse is when an otherwise not-strictly-FMOG book like the Corrections is invaded by FMOG and suddenly a professor is humping his couch, when he is not humping an attractive younger female student. And it is all Supposed to Mean Something, something besides “dude, just use a sock.”

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 10:14 pm | Permalink
  27. clairedammit wrote:

    I’ve always thought of this genre as “Middle-aged White Man is Middle-aged” but Fond Memories of Vagina is so much better. There’s just way too much of this stuff labeled as Serious Literature With Universal Meaning. Barf.

    Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 10:25 pm | Permalink
  28. SarahC wrote:

    This post was amazing! (I’ve only ever read, and hated, one book by Martin Amis which I can’t remember but made me never want to read another.) Can we have more Garland Grey book reviews please? – this was incisive, well-balanced, and I liked that you deconstructed some of the prose as well as the broader (if they can be so dignified) themes. It would actually also be great to hear your thoughts on other Marquez novels – Love in the Time of Cholera (which I love despite myself, and despite the paedophilia which drives the victim to suicide part) springs to mind…

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 6:27 am | Permalink
  29. Melissa wrote:

    This made me laugh so hard.

    Thanks for making my morning. :)

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 9:41 am | Permalink
  30. Lizzie wrote:

    DEAR GARLANDGREY, SADY, AND THE TEAM:
    First of all, I loled at least thrice during the reading of this article. So very well put. I’ve been trying to figure out why I just didn’t seem to GET why a lot of writing has been deemed “GOOD LITERATURE” when it’s full of bad sex scenes that SUPPOSEDLY MEAN SOMETHING REVELATORY.
    Secondly, I would love love love for you guys to create an ongoing reading list of really good fiction, fiction that isn’t full of cringe-inducing misogyny AND is well-written, enjoyable/fulfilling. I dunno, whenever I make new friends I like for them to give me a few book suggestions, and part of me feels like I’m getting to know the people through the books they like. So if all my friends, my parents, and my schools are all suggesting/assigning me books, why shouldn’t the Beatdown? Anyway, I also think it’d be fun as HELL to get a bunch of Beatdown-ers together to read a specific book and discuss it along the way. InfiniteSummer style, know what I’m sayin?

    Anyway, reading list first (please!), InfiniteBeatdown later. It wouldn’t need to include reviews or explanations (although that would be glorious), just the list is all I’m really craving.

    But if anyone else wants to make the Beatdown-discussion-while-reading a reality, I’m totally serious about setting it up!

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  31. Alex wrote:

    So, where do I get a copy of this, “The Webmaster”, because that’s some “Fond Memories of Vagina” I could get down with.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink
  32. Sour Kraut wrote:

    It’s fun to picture these books being read aloud by Christopher Walken dressed as The Continental.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 11:47 am | Permalink
  33. Octavia wrote:

    I think Tan’s condescending (and yes, bloated and redundant) attempt in the comments to explain how Above it All he is makes this piece even more hilarious.

    I particularly love the point about the titles being misleading. It’s a very dehumanising genre for women.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 12:48 pm | Permalink
  34. KMTBerry wrote:

    Clairedammmit: I L*OV**E your genre title ever so much also!

    “Middle-aged Man is Middle-Aged”

    Ahhhh…..that says it all!

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink
  35. TAN wrote:

    Octavia,

    thanks for noticing my smugness, I’m trying to tone that down and it helps when people point it out.

    i think my redundancy here comes from some of the echo chamber effect. in my brief perusing thus far of the content here, i think i’ve seen SADY HERSELF deal with the problems that come from echo chambers and preaching to the choir. i’d try and parse out how that might be the big problem of the niche-blogosphere in terms of fulfilling this ambition of uniting people instead of further dividing them, but now i’m afraid of being bloated and redundant (too late?)

    in short: there is no empathy in this post, and Martin Amis’s book seems like a sidekick to FMOV point, which didn’t need Martin Amis book to be made. i don’t know where you get that I’m “above it”, but I just think we smart people should challenge ourselves to think and do better. And i’m only saying this here cause I thought it was in line with the agenda of the community.

    thanks

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink
  36. Rick Massimo wrote:

    For decades, I internalized that if you are a REAL WRITER you write like this, and since I didn’t want to, I shouldn’t bother. I’m still just coming out of it.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Permalink
  37. Sady wrote:

    @TAN: Hi! Also: I think one of the points of this genre is how little empathy it has for anyone who falls into the category “lady,” while sort of pretending to higher moral relevance. It inspires a great deal of irritation — and, while I get your points about empathy and nuance being necessary, as you know, I also think it’s sort of freeing and necessary to be able to express that irritation, and to be supported in the expression. Since it’s not supported, really, in the mainstream, or in discussions of “literature” as a whole. I remember reading a review of one of the later Roth books — the one where the lady is dying, and has only one wish before she dies, and that wish being for the Roth surrogate to touch her breasts one more time, I think? — in which the lady who spoke about it also mentioned there being sort of an unspoken rule that women don’t get Roth books to review, and her being a weird freak in the system. The thought being, I guess, that if women had the chance to review several thousand words of absurdly pretentious hatred aimed at their gender, they might actually focus on that, and on how very irritating and appalling it is, rather than The Great Literature Of The Greatest Author of Our Time. While empathy is incredibly valuable, I question whether we should always have to extend it to people who have vocally and repeatedly refused to extend it to us, and whether there isn’t some value in providing a forum for justified anger that just sort of gets squashed or silenced in other places. Making room for nuance doesn’t mean making excuses for misogyny.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Permalink
  38. TAN wrote:

    “Feminism being, in this metaphor, not the endpoint, not the destination, but the necessary way in to the actual problem; feminism being not the room, but the door.” – Sady Doyle

    this is a feminist review/read that doesn’t lead anywhere. i made a point to separate the writer from the post. if a talented writer only has a finite amount of words and ideas and life (which is the case) why waste it on pom poms, even if they are prettily decorated? I am all for ladyfun, but the blog header says “ladybusiness” …

    as noted above, by someone less smug, this type of book has been previously snuffed out by DFW (amongst others). this a plaything for fem-bloggers to bat around. which isn’t a problem inandof itself, but I was motivated to respond because it feels like a post that in the future will be referred to as a “Fond Memories of Feminism” post. where men of a certain blah blah blah type hanging out with a certain blah blah gang of ladies poke fun at those blah blah blah guys who were SO IN LOVE with their penises ….

    anyamis, i haven’t read the book. sorry to interrupt the roast.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 1:49 pm | Permalink
  39. Erin wrote:

    Don’t you see, Sady? Now that you wrote a post which touched upon ‘feminist echo chambers,’ feminists are not allowed to agree with one another, ever. Because it is not possible for people to just simply agree on something and not have it be evidence of group think, apparently?

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  40. Sady wrote:

    @TAN: If these books have, as you claim, been “snuffed out,” how do you explain the absurd amount of reverence for them among reviewers and in English Lit departments? How do you explain the exoneration and reverence for folks like Updike and Mailer? When they die, we get these shrugging, indifferent little asides about how “some” (note that the “some” are never named or given credit for their points) “have called their work sexist.” We don’t get any straight-up admissions that, yes, Updike and Mailer WERE pretty undeniably sexist, and were able to reach their lofty positions in the literary world because they lived in a culture that valorized, participated in, and excused sexism. Roth is still referred to as a “national treasure” and a literary great, albeit with some faint shades of embarrassment among people young enough to (one hopes) know better. When I see you pushing for “empathy,” it reads to me as if you want us to be nice about all this, to see where they’re coming from. But they flatly dehumanize their female characters, and those of us who have read the reviews or had to study the books in class or generally participated, in whatever small way, in the literary culture that honors these men… well, we KNOW where they’re coming from, we get their “humanity,” and we get it because the entire culture is making the same damn mistakes and piling the same damn bouquets upon their graves, over and over and over again, and looking down its nose at anyone who dares to point out that this shit hurts us. This shit promulgates the view that we are subhuman, and encourages the treatment of us as subhuman. There’s at least one young male writer working today who admits to modeling himself on Norman Mailer. Norman! Mailer! I don’t know if stabbing women is part of his plan — I’m going to go ahead and guess not — but the fact that a young man can grab onto the Mailer legacy without cutting his hands on the sharp edges (you know, that whole “violently hated women and expressed that both through his work and through trying to fucking murder us” thing) is symptomatic, to me, of the fact that these men have been exonerated and all but deified in the literary discourse. Call this “balance,” if you like. There has to be at least one place where we’re not obliged to treat these men with the exaggerated reverence that defines the conversation around them, and if I can provide that place, I will.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 2:12 pm | Permalink
  41. Erin wrote:

    Though I suppose it is clever of Tan to use a post about how people should form their own opinions on things to dismiss some people’s opinions on things. Except for the clever part.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  42. TAN wrote:

    I wrote my last comment before reading yours, sady (hi).

    i just refreshed to not make that mistake again, which i would have. but now i have this response i clipped off to the side. so i’m posting this while reconciling…*hold please*

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Permalink
  43. TAN wrote:

    ok… erin, and others, please don’t be defensive. i’m not the enemy …(this is an amended comment added on after seeing more tomatoes thrown at me)

    “While empathy is incredibly valuable, I question whether we should always have to extend it to people who have vocally and repeatedly refused to extend it to us”

    I am Team Tiger Beatdown. love the content, love my sense of the community (thus far; squinty-eyes at you, Octavia [ed: you too, Erin]). but i’m also a critic, and I’m sorry if it gives me that Obama elitist air to nitpick a fun-snarky review. but i do think the only way we can do it is together. and snark is fun to make a point, but indulging and belaboring it is the same thing Amis is being criticized of in this review.

    i’ve been booed off the stage at gawker for pimping race or hip hop. i’ve been booed off okayplayer/ebonyjet for pimping white people. it’s tough swimming against the tide of status quo ….

    *small voice, small voice*

    ok. i think what happens is that in closing the door on the old guard, you close the door on people still doing their own filtering out of the old guard. simply put, per my lemonism quote: if sady is worried about including race, and non-privileged white females. i don’t know if this helps. between the race/hip hop/feminist blogospheres there’s a lot of mutual interest, but no one wants to make the extra effort of not adding the hot sauce that makes their content good, but also makes it less appealing to newcomers. i can put this type of comment on most things on a hip hop blog also.

    it’s not an easy issue, and i certainly have not figured out (the climate is too nice and comfy up here), but I do think it’s the challenge those of us who care and are smart need to live up to. and it’s not to say, no jokes, no fun, but it’s easy to let that sprawl out of control.

    i guess it’s more an editorial comment/note since i’m new here, and emailed the tbd gang, and that’s how i think, …. but honestly, I wouldn’t interrupt a ‘Fuck The Man’ party in real life. but i would say in my drunken stupor that i don’t know if we should continue to party on The Man’s grave like this. there’s winning, and there’s piling on. 2, 3 grafs in i felt winning, by the end i felt piling on. it’s a small nit in the grand scheme of things. but nuance is the conversation on the posting side of thing, and I think maybe should be a bigger part on the commenting side as well.

    it’s not like i’m suggesting take it down. but presumably Tiger Beatdown is going to be so much bigger and popular a few years from now, and I’d bet tweaking the feminism so it’s not as intent on defeating the enemy as uplifting everyone will be part of that evolution …

    i’m exhausted. do i have to skulk away, or can i get a drink and come back on another post/topic?

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  44. TAN wrote:

    Erin, this is the part directly before the part I excerpted:

    “And here’s me in the entire rest of the world, dealing with all the ways people have their humanity denied, dealing with concern and solidarity with basically everybody who is not privileged. And realizing there are way more people without full, uncompromised privilege than with it, and that this is kind of an essential fact of the human experience. Dealing with, like, the experience of being human on Planet Earth.”

    i’m not saying your interpretation of the post being about “how people should form their own opinions” is wrong, just that it’s also about other things. this was the part that struck me …

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 2:34 pm | Permalink
  45. Samantha b. wrote:

    TAN, fuck if I know, but I tend to think get a drink and come back on another post makes sense? There’s a decent amount of problematic stuff in your post, but I will just single out the fairly significant point that you are writing about books you haven’t read here. I haven’t read much of them either, because I am a thrower of irritating things across the room. But I will say that I did read the first two chapters of Mailer’s “Ancient Evenings” in elementary school (it was -mysteriously- in my school library.) And I did not have a Victorian upbringing; I had read a decent amount of novels with sex in them before that. But the hate Mailer had for the women that the character slept with in those two fucking chapters alone is still seared into my brain decades later. There’s a particularly vicious passage where he mocks a woman for daring to have hair on her head that mismatches the hair elsewhere. It’s just a nastily cruel book, and, despite it being critically lambasted for having jack shit to say, it’s still being cited as inspiration for Matthew Barney’s recent work. This stuff has broad cultural repercussions. It’s not a matter of not having empathy for Mailer; it’s a matter of examining what becomes a broad-reaching system. I really, really wouldn’t go mistaking Garland gray’s flippancy for a lack of depth in content.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 2:42 pm | Permalink
  46. Erin wrote:

    @ Tan

    Sorry for my defensiveness. I just get irritated when people critique a way a post is written (which I see as a way to just critique the person writing) rather than discussing the subject the post is about. But perhaps I misinterpreted your comment.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 2:47 pm | Permalink
  47. TAN wrote:

    Erin: thanks. I’m new and loud and sometime obnoxious (though I tried hard here), so no worries.

    Samantha,

    Mailer? that wasn’t brought up until just recently. books? i only conceded not reading the amis book being reviewed. “depth in content” is not a criticism i’ve expressed …

    maybe my point is better served by asking about the books by black females that couldn’t get reviewed because someone had to shit on Amis?

    someone’s talent, energy, effort is a finite-sum game. and it has now been used on something you don’t care about. why bother sleeping with amis if you know you don’t like him?

    seem to me, vetting out “good” or “bad” is less important than attention now. megan fox: good or bad? Tina Fey: yay or nay. is the same game. someone will see the name and check the links and search and figure out for themselves. the imbalance and neglect you wish to correct is in is the person you don’t hear about. or maybe discussing who’s better than the FMOV crew. why not show amis up by extending the convo on Chimamanda Adichie, Purple Hibiscus? that’s the same idea without belaboring a joke, which was my only SMALL criticism.

    the internet is a game-changer. is there a shortage of FMOV posts on the internet? I don’t deny that a lot of change still needs to happen, but what are you changing to? snooty women vs. snooty men is still snooty. a girl born today is not at the same risk of unchecked influence by the White Male Narcissists.in part because of great blogs like this one. but then what? what do we bequeath her besides more animosity toward a more distant past.

    IT’S A GREAT POST. YAY! but we all need new posts and material for tomorrow, and criticism is what paves the road for growth….

    sorry for the tone of this, it only comes out when typing (and then snarked at). it sounds much more friendly and approachable in my head.

    XO

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 3:21 pm | Permalink
  48. SarahB wrote:

    This is a wonderful summation of how I felt my senior year of high school and we were given an assignment to familiarize and imitate a particular author’s style. I read three of updike’s rabbit books and a slew of short stories,and felt, not exactly appalled (although that would be what the feeling matured to later) but just surprised at the lack of empathy for the women in the novels. How was it that I in my sixteen year old girlness could see what a complicated and unfair situation the lives of these women had become, and Updike, one of the great important geniuses of American literature didn’t.

    The other side of my Updike experience, and all of the literature mentioned in this post, is that on good occasion it is inspired. I remember a scene in which the main character sits in the car listening to the radio feeling, you know, stuff, that struck me as a profound testament to what language can do. The problem is there is so rarely any pressure to be both good and empathetically expansive; it’s sufficient to be good and a dude. Which leaves one with the sum problem of reading while feminist. How much can you refuse, how much can you muddle through, how many authors and titles can you add on the list if “I love it but…”?

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 4:25 pm | Permalink
  49. Melusine wrote:

    So what you’re really saying, Tan, is that you think Garland Grey should have written about something else because somehow he won’t be able to write a review of a book by a woman of color and explore its context now that he’s written a review of what he points out as yet another FMOV book. Is that about right? Really?

    It is important that feminists continue to examine the works of authors we know we won’t like and write about why we don’t like it, because the rest of the world will continue to blow sunshine up these guys’ patoots. Doing so does preclude anyone from writing about other things too. I’ve only been reading here for a year or so, but this seems like a pretty both/and kind of blog to me.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 4:27 pm | Permalink
  50. Melusine wrote:

    Grrrr. Doing so does NOT preclude anyone from writing about other things, too.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  51. bxley wrote:

    @Tan, even if it is sort of jumping on a bandwagon. I do not know, nor do I care to speculate, if you are in fact Above It All, but I sure as fuck am not. I’m thoroughly Within It, as are many of us here, whether we want to or not. (we were also not aware that The Man was dead and that we could be dancing on his grave as we speak. seriously, what cemetery? I’ll bring an iPod full of Alaska y Dinarama.)
    so. two comments.
    one, regarding the DFW put-down, and Garland Grey’s alleged redundancy. even if a put down by a younger author were enough to “snuff out” a particular kind of literature, it doesn’t make Garland’s comments redundant. because he’s critiquing something else.
    DFW calling these men Great Male Narcissists feels a lot like a young happening dude calling his middle-aged dad sad and pathetic for chasing 18-year-olds, and promising himself and his young happening friends that he’ll never be like that.
    but Garland doesn’t call out Fond Memories of Vagina just for the narcissism of the authors/protagonists, but for what that narcissism does to characters that we are supposed to read and understand as real people– this feels as something else. it’s a bit like that very chased18-year-old girl telling the midlife-crisised dad that she does not find him interesting or attractive, and that his pursuit of unequal sexual relationships is predatory and super creepy. like Sady said, this shit hurts us.
    two, about the possibility of reviewing literature by women of color (or men of color, or the marginalized identity of your choice). you could, like other commenters have, just ask. I’m sure not just the TB writers, but also plenty of commenters have suggestions (Elena Garro! Elena Garro!). but even if we undergo a visibility project for non-white-dude literature (and please, let’s!), it’s still worth it to critique the White Dudes. because they tend to write the books read by people who don’t normally read capital-L Literature. and that is how shitty preconceptions become set in stone.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Permalink
  52. Sady wrote:

    @bxlety, and everybody: Okay, now this is a pile-on. Which is exactly what I was talking about last week, in the “I Love Dick” post. We address something that makes us angry, we feel good about being allowed to express our anger, and then when someone comes in and feels differently — and is, can I point out, really pretty civil about the existence of disagreement, even if his disagreements seem harsh — we turn all that anger onto him. It feels like that scene in “The Handmaid’s Tale” where all the oppressed ladies are so full of rage that they’re willing to tear apart a dude who may or may not be a rapist. The point of that scene being not whether the dude raped anybody, but that taking one’s rage out on a dude is a state-sanctioned way of channeling the energies of the ladies they’re oppressing AWAY from doing anything actually constructive. In this case, all TAN did was disagree. It also edged onto being a bit disrespectful toward Garland, which I don’t like, but it was just a disagreement. Not something you have to spend your afternoon venting rage over. We’ve registered disagreement. People have discussed the nature of the disagreement. It got harsh for a minute, then it got less harsh, and now we are cool. Let’s not play a game of Pile On The Commenter here, please.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 4:44 pm | Permalink
  53. Erin wrote:

    Blerg. I feel like a scolded child.

    Sorry Tan. :/

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 5:00 pm | Permalink
  54. GarlandGrey wrote:

    @Tan There is a place for everyone at Tiger Beatdown. There many not be a place for every comment everyone makes, which essentially means some people just shouldn’t comment, but I don’t think you are one of those people. Please take this advice in the spirit it was given: as someone who, just a few months ago, was exactly where you are. I have always been a feminist, but I still didn’t know how to join the conversation productively. I’d read a post where a woman SEEMED to be saying that all people with penises were violent, I’d look down at my own decidely non-violent penis, and I’d get on them internets! I’d mansplain to these ladies that I, as a highly-evolved gay man and as a pretty great guy, had never done anything to hurt women.

    Tan, have you ever spent time on the metaphor “hit me like a ton of bricks?” That’s vertical, clearly it is falling on you (unless someone has found a way to shoot a mountain of bricks directly AT a person, because that there is some Wile E Coyote technology.) Each brick hurts, individually, but sometimes 3 come at once and at this point you are just “WHY DID I STAND ON THE BIG X?” Because that is what that comment thread felt like. And I was DIGGING, man, believe me, backtracking, trying to derail (Well, if you won’t teach me what I’m doing wrong…?) and finally just getting myself banned.

    It was not about me. But I was making it about me. I was skipping in to tell them, “No worries ladies, some dudes aren’t like that” to which they rightly replied “-the fuck you say.” and told me all the ways I was not being part of the solution.

    But I have gotten much better. Here are the involuable, must have rules for commenting on social justice boards. Brace yourself, I am going to be THOROUGH.

    1. Don’t ever act like you are telling anyone something about a group they belong to that they don’t know. Every single one of us share a gender, sexuality, race, and religion with assholes. I am not obliged to FIX anything in my own sexuality so you can take me seriously on the internet.

    2. Don’t tell anyone about the experience of being privileged, because it is literally the air they breath. I will never know as much about being gay as I do about being straight.

    3. Don’t tell us what is productive and what isn’t. We don’t even like hearing that from each other. We are trying to establish a complex network of social contacts, while working within a area of study that is almost completely male-dominated (criticism), and keep ourselves afloat amid unsatisfying jobs and complex personal relationships. Sometime we just need to make a pinata out of someone and go to town. Sometimes we will discuss very serious things. Last week every single Beatdown contributor turned in stories that were about painful or problematic issues; C.L.’s post made me so mad I went into the garage and screamed.

    4. Look up a list of argument derails, one with examples, and then don’t ever do ANY of that shit.

    5. Listen. Feminism, for men, is about listening. Being an ally of any sort is about listening. If it isn’t about you, don’t make it about you. Men, as a collective, don’t need anymore defense. They don’t need you as their critical tailback, making sure Feminism is FAIR to them. They are quite monolithic, these men. The very thought of them terrifies me.

    I don’t want this to be a pile-on, where you feel exiled from the Beatdown, wandering the internet in search of a voice. I suspect once you have internalized 1-5, we’ll actually kind of like you. DNA point! Amniotic fluid! Hot sauce! I like your style of writing, even if I didn’t agree with anything you said. Thank you for the compliments you made to may writing, I apologize for not answering any of the criticism directly. I think the others have done that quite well.

    Thank you for reading the Beatdown.

    Please continue.

    Garland Grey

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Permalink
  55. TAN wrote:

    ” I apologize for not answering any of the criticism directly. I think the others have done that quite well.”

    ha. wow. I’m glad for your experiences and rules-learning, Garland!

    a few months ago i was writing/editing a book (still am, almost done!) that deals in a large way with reconciling white male privilege. so i’m glad you like my writing style, maybe you’ll review it! it’s non-fiction, so no FMOV for you to fill the pinata up with, but that’s neither here nor there when what i actually say matters so very little. in any case i have a female editor slapping me on the hand whenever I break her rules (garland, dude (can i call you that?), her list is like a book)

    jeesh. obviously i regret knocking your putting of the man in his place. in my remedial egotism, i overlooked that achievement. the main thing lost, amongst so much, is that my point was intended to be small and just part of the crowd. turns out it was the lone voice of dissent, and here we are.

    anyways, just came back to note that I wrote a post on my experience here, and mentioned echo-chamber blogger communities, and the writer/blogger role in moderating that. i did that before seeing sady’s comment, so I wanted to make note, for her, that I appreciate her stepping in.

    you guys (whoops!) are doing a good thing here, keep it up!

    no, seriously. i feel i’ve been goaded into a bit of an immature tone, and if that’s how you deal i’ll respond in kind. but the ladybusiness is very important. and i thanks you for your fervent and single-minded dedication to its cause.

    have a good weekend!

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Permalink
  56. bxley wrote:

    @tan, and like Erin, yeah, that was a pile-on, and thus not cool and I’m sorry. when I tried to figure out what about your disagreement bothered me so much, all I could come up with was a version of The Tone Argument. which is absolutely shitty of me, and I apologize.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  57. GarlandGrey wrote:

    @Bxley That Alaska y Dinarama recommendation was solid though. That going to be my soundtrack for the next week and a half. And I’m going to look into Elena Garro, just reading her Wikipedia page I am intrigued.

    One thing I thought about when reading the comments was how terrible this novel would be from the point of view of the object of affect. Can we have someone write “Unfond Memories of Being Stalked”?

    To all the people who commented on the jokes: thank you. I liked that one too.

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 7:14 pm | Permalink
  58. Beth Turner wrote:

    Right wow, I wandered in late.

    Um.

    First point: Killer post! I hate “Literature” for all these reasons and more but this was a wonderful way of making me laugh about it!

    Second Point: The Tan Pile-on. That has to be the politest (on all sides!) pile on I’ve ever seen on the interwebs! I gotta say a congrats to Sady and others and especially Tan for keeping it pretty civil on other areas of the interwebs it would have already devolved to “You’re Stupid!” and “Oh yeah well so is your FACE!” so I’m impressed!

    Also as someone who tends to get into interwebs worked up moments I give a little advice to all (but mostly Tan):

    No one likes to be told (or think they’re being told) that they’re wrong to be angry/cross/happy/smug about something. They’re always going to react badly. So my general approach to internet discussion is if I’m feeling cross about a post is to go and get a cup of tea (I live in England!) and watch some trashy television and come back to it much later and repeat the mantra “It’s just the internet.”

    *words from a former flouncer of forums*

    But seriously well down TBH, and Sady! And Tan!

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 7:36 pm | Permalink
  59. Nancy wrote:

    Also known as “New Yorker fiction”

    Friday, July 2, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Permalink
  60. nico wrote:

    Amazing post, thanks for writing it – and double thanks for making it so funny!

    Saturday, July 3, 2010 at 1:37 am | Permalink
  61. JMBC wrote:

    Thanks for the review Garland Grey, I almost purchased that Amis book this afternoon, having never read any Amis. Dodged a bullet that time!

    The only Updike book I’ve read which actually contains three dimensional women was The Witches of Eastwick – which was a hoot, except of course the women were all competing for access to the same middle-aged schwanz – but they kill him in the end, which made the book somewhat satisfying.

    I’d be interested to know what tiger beatdown writers and commenters think of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – and the other 2 novels in that series. I’ve read so many reviews touting these books as wonderful liberating, feminist (?!) novels, but I’m thinking they should be in a sub-classification of the same genre as the Amis and Updike, “Fond Memories of Vagina which has known extreme sexual violence and therefore is grateful that I don’t beat/rape/torture her.”

    Greatly enjoyed your parody – such talent!

    Tuesday, July 6, 2010 at 3:07 am | Permalink
  62. Erin wrote:

    @JMBC

    I am currently reading the first book of the series. I mostly like it, but the part where he goes into her apartment and is looking at, messing with all her stuff and cleaning her kitchen is weird. It was completely out of character for her to be ok with it and it reminded me of Sady’s Rand parody when B Michael violated her kitchen space! I’m sure I’ll have more to say when I’m actually done with the book, but by then no one will be checking this thread anymore.

    Wednesday, July 7, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink